One of Gainesville’s oldest and largest churches celebrated a legacy of service, love and inclusion this weekend.
First Baptist Church celebrated a unique 150-year-old two-year anniversary Saturday and Sunday in northwest Gainesville, with a vintage car display, bouncy houses for children, fellowship and food.
“This celebration allows us to reflect on our history and to reflect on what all those who came before us have left behind,” said Harriet Spangler, the event’s organizer, who has also been an FBC member since. 50 years. .
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The church celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2020, but due to the COVID pandemic, had to delay the celebratory event for two years.
Established five years after the Civil War in 1870, FBC began with a 14-member congregation when Gainesville was still a small frontier town.
Several years later, in 1897, the church moved into a building near what would become the University of Florida campus, establishing a longstanding relationship with UF faculty, staff, and students. .
“One of the unique characteristics of First Baptist Church in Gainesville is its interaction with the university system from the outset,” said Lynn Williams, who recently retired as FBC minister after 16 years of service.
Now located west of I-75 off 39th Avenue, FBC has over 800 members and often serves the community through a variety of outreach and mission programs, including the International Learning Center , which teaches English as a second language to members of the international community and UF students.
Throughout its history, Williams said FBC has been instrumental in diversity and inclusion.
“FBC was very welcoming to international students, and we were one of the first churches to have African Americans in our church body who could actually speak from the pulpit,” she said.
Beyond that, Spangler said FBC has an inclusive history of female ministers, which is a contentious issue among many congregations of various denominations.
Women have served as deacons since 1987, and in 1998 the first black female deacon was elected, according to information on the FBC website.
During Saturday’s celebration, attendees could be seen tasting different dishes, while staff members gave a tour of the facilities.
Gayle and Brandon Ambrose of Snowie of Gainesville were giving away free snow cones and said they were thrilled to join in the celebration. Levy County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon has operated on Snowie alongside her mother, Gayle, for the past 15 years.
The Immaculate Church campus includes a large sanctuary, a children’s department and nursery, a prayer garden – located under a massive oak tree over 400 years old – and a half-mile meditation circle with signs writing desks and benches.
The event also featured several rows of immaculate vintage cars with some models dating back to the 1920s.
FBC says it has had 23 senior pastors, their terms ranging from 10 days to 26 years, and the ministers have had varying backgrounds.
Currently, Dr. Ray Johnson is acting pastor.
“Everything that started in this era (after the Civil War) is worth remembering,” Johnson said. “We want to celebrate what this church has meant to the members and community of Gainesville over the years.”